There is a clear difference between a forced marriage and an arranged marriage. In arranged marriages, the families of both spouses take a leading role in arranging the marriage but the choice of whether or not to accept the arrangement remains with the young people.
In a forced marriage, one or both spouses do not consent to the arrangement of the marriage and some elements of duress are involved. Duress can include physical, psychological, financial, sexual and emotional pressure. Forced Marriage is an abuse of human rights and, where a child is involved, an abuse of the rights of the child.
Forced marriage involving anyone under the age of 18 constitutes a form of child abuse. A child who is forced into marriage is likely to suffer Significant Harm through physical, sexual or emotional abuse. Forced marriage can have a negative impact on a child's health and development, and can also result in sexual violence including rape. If a child is forced to marry, he or she may be taken abroad for an extended period of time which could amount to child abduction. In addition, a child in such a situation would be absent from school resulting in the loss of educational opportunities, and possibly also future employment opportunities. Even if the child is not taken abroad, they are likely to be taken out of school so as to ensure that they do not talk about their situation with their peers.
One serious consequence of forced marriage is the increased likelihood of domestic violence and abuse and sexual abuse. Anyone forced into marriage faces an increased risk of rape and sexual abuse as they may not consent, or may not be the legal age to consent to a sexual relationship. This in turn may result in unwanted pregnancies or enforced abortions.
Female Genital Mutilation may also be a factor in cases of forced marriage. See also Female Genital Mutilation Procedure.
Circumstances can change quickly and increase the risk to the victim and any friends/family members supporting the victim - especially following a disclosure to the police. Perpetrators may respond by moving the victim or bringing forward a forced marriage.
Perpetrators will use controlling and coercive methods to control the victim.
Women, men and younger members of the family can all be involved in perpetrating the abuse. Offences that may be committed include; common assault, grievous bodily harm, harassment, false imprisonment, kidnap, threats to kill and murder. There may be instances of child trafficking.Perpetrators may take victims abroad for the purpose of forced marriage, under the pretext of a family holiday, a wedding or illness of a grandparent/family member.
The risks of emotional abuse through being stigmatised by family wider community are also present; these in turn may lead to serious consequences for the individual in terms of their mental health or self-harming behaviour.
Children are also deprived of the normal range of opportunities and experiences available to their peers when they are pressurised into marriage against their will.
Warning signs that a child or young person may be at risk of forced marriage or may have been forced to marry may include:
- Extended absences from school/college, truancy, drop in performance, low motivation, excessive parental restriction and control of movements and history of siblings leaving education early to marry;
- A child talking about an upcoming family holiday that they are worried about, fears that they will be taken out of education and kept abroad;
- Evidence of self-harm, treatment for depression, attempted suicide, social isolation, eating disorders or substance abuse;
- Evidence of family disputes/conflict, domestic violence/abuse or running away from home;
- Unreasonable restrictions such as being kept at home by their parents ('house arrest') or being unable to complete their education;
- A child being in conflict with their parents;
- A child going missing/running away;
- A child always being accompanied including to school and doctors' appointments;
- A child directly disclosing that they are worried s/he will be forced to marry;
- Contradictions in the child's account of events.
4. Legal Position
Anyone threatened with forced marriage or forced to marry against their will can apply for Forced Marriage Protection Order. Third parties, such as relatives, friends, voluntary workers and police officers, can also apply for a protection order with the leave of the court. Fifteen county courts deal with applications and make orders to prevent forced marriages. Local authorities can seek a protection order for Adults at Risk and children without leave of the court. Guidance published by the Ministry of Justice explains how local authorities can apply for protection orders and provides information for other agencies. (This is available at the Justice website).
The Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 made it a criminal offence, with effect from 16 June 2014, to force someone to marry. This includes:
- Taking someone overseas to force them to marry (whether or not the forced marriage takes place);
- Marrying someone who lacks the mental Capacity to consent to the marriage (whether they're pressured to or not).
Breaching a Forced Marriage Protection Order is also now a criminal offence. The civil remedy of obtaining a Forced Marriage Protection Order through the family courts, as set out above, continues to exist alongside the criminal offence, so victims can choose how they wish to be assisted.
Forcing someone to marry can result in a sentence of up to 7 years in prison.
Disobeying a Forced Marriage Protection Order can result in a sentence of up to 5 years in prison.
5. Protection and Action to be Taken
Where the concerns about the welfare and safety of the child or young person are such that a referral to Children's social care should be made the Referrals Procedure must be followed.
Practitioners should always consider the need for immediate protection, as disclosure of the forced marriage may be the direct consequence of the impending event. Children's social care will liaise with the police to ensure the safety of the victim and any other family members.
A Strategy Discussion/Meeting will be needed to deal with this issue; the Police, Housing Services, Children's social care, Health and voluntary organisations must work together to address the young person's need for information, protection, financial support, accommodation and emotional support. Legal advice will be needed to inform the Strategy Discussion as legal action may be necessary.
Any child considered to be at risk of a forced marriage will be considered a child in need and assessed accordingly. Where an Initial Child Protection Conference is convened, great care must be taken to manage information about the whereabouts of the young person. The social worker and his/her manager must discuss the arrangements with the Conference Chair and consider whether the family should be present or not, or at the same time as the young person, as threats may be made. An interpreter fully independent of the family should be present at all times.
Allegations of plans and arrangements to force a child to marry will inevitably be divisive for the family and possibly the wider community. Therefore attempts to discuss this with the family could potentially place a child at greater risk.
Children may require support from workers of the same gender and if possible the same cultural background. Where interpreters and translators are used, care must be taken to ensure that they have no connections with the immediate community of the child.
A child arriving in this country for the purposes of a forced marriage or one who has recently married abroad may be extremely isolated and feel threatened and abused. The legal right to remain may be in question and the consequences of returning home may also be very serious.
Professionals should not:
- Underestimate the potential risk of harm;
- Speak to the child on the telephone (to ascertain if they are being held against their will) - the family may be present or it may be a different person speaking on the telephone;
- Approach or inform the child's family, friends or members of the community that the victim has sought help as this is likely to increase the risk to the victim significantly;
- Share information outside child protection information-sharing protocols without the express consent of the child;
- Attempt to be a mediator. This has in the past resulted in the victim being removed from the country and not traced /or murdered.
Multi-Agency Practice Guidelines: Handling Cases of Forced Marriage 2014 - Step-by-step advice for frontline workers. Essential reading for health professionals, educational staff, police, children's social care, adult social services and local authority housing.
Forced Marriage Unit (GOV.UK) - Contact the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) if you're trying to stop a forced marriage or you need help leaving a marriage you've been forced into.
Home Office - Information and practice guidelines for professionals protecting, advising and supporting victims. This includes Multi-Agency Statutory Guidance for dealing with forced marriage.